baja…this is it.

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Baja. Where do I start? Always a special place to visit and fly fish with the Sea of Cortez and its abundant life and the big Roosterfish that prowl its beaches. Turn away from the sea and there is heat, and sand dunes and then the beautiful austere desert terrain that runs inland to the impressive Sierra de la Laguna mountains: the spine of the south end of this unique peninsula. Also special are the small authentic, quiet east cape beach towns and the colonial villages on the interior where chickens, cattle, goats, and numerous Mexican dogs share the streets with locals.

I hadn’t been back to this world in four years after having fly fished the region for several consecutive springs. I was so excited about my return that I woke up at 4:30 am every morning, no alarm required, feeling “ready to go” even after spending long days on foot in the sand and in the heat searching for roosters. My enthusiasm never waned.

In past seasons I’ve managed at least one good Roosterfish (Pez Gallo) or Jack (Toro) every trip. Unfortunately, none this year.

I did managed to tease several large roosters to the beach but in the end, no connection. Roosters can be incredibly challenging to dupe. It seemed I only averaged two or three good chances everyday, which for me, is not enough. I’ve had more opportunity on past trips. I wished I got more shots. Of course we always want more time and chances in angling and elsewhere…but we get what we get and I am grateful for my time there, for the experience and for witnessing what I did, and for having some opportunities. As with past trips this was a successful one.

The last couple of days proved best in terms of seeing fish and having opportunities. The wind kicked in, the surf came up, and baitfish started being pushed against the beach. I sensed opportunity based on past experience. It was like predicting and preparing for a hatch in trout fishing. I watched and waited, and knew there was the potential for things to “bust loose”. And it finally did. With the baitfish came the large predators and chances. I felt I came close to a hook up, however, “close is only good in horseshoes and hand grenades”. Funny how silly childhood sayings stay with you.

One afternoon a sizable rooster chased bait from a great distance in tight to the beach. I was waiting for it as it had done the same thing thirty minutes earlier. I had to run for it as it zigzagged through the water, grabbing and gobbling bait which were frantic and going airborne in order to escape. I got my six inch fly on the rooster’s nose at least two times while it gorged. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem interested in my offering. The mullet it was slashing at were chunky and close to two feet long. An angler quading down the beach  caught part of the action and said: “It was like a National Geographic special…it was like watching Shamu toss seals in the air… those mullet were huge…no way was he interested in your itty bitty fly”. That evening at the vise I tied a one foot and a half long fly. It looked like a gym sock. In the wind it was like trying to cast a fully loaded submarine sandwich.

I met some great people on the beach. Jason from Rochester shared angling reports twice a day. He’d drive (quad) miles of sand from mid morning until late in the afternoon, everyday. He’s been rooster fishing the East Cape for 13 seasons. On his second week angling he said he felt he might get “skunked” as he, like me, was not getting a lot of opportunities. Well that didn’t happen. Before the end of his trip he managed to land a four and one half foot rooster. He told me his fly was lodged deep and he had to put his hand and arm into the rooster’s bowling ball sized mouth to dislodge it. His forearm was all raked and cut. I don’t know if I would have done that.

On my last day there I met a fellow named Martin on my favorite angling beach where I’ve landed my best fish in past seasons. He was fly fishing. He informed he was in the area representing a group that was trying to purchase a large tract of land so that it couldn’t be developed. He had once been the head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Mexico and now was onto other preservation projects, one being the beach we were standing on and the thousands of desert acres running from the sea westward to the interior mountains. As we talked I learned he had played a role (and still does) in preserving the Cabo Pulmo park/reef just south of where we were fishing. In the 14 years of protection reef biomass has increased over 400%. That’s a good thing. Every once in awhile, often through chance encounter, I’m reminded that there are some very special people out there doing amazing, selfless things.

One moment that especially stands out for me occurred when I drove north one day to explore a fishing beach in a nothing of a coastal town called El Cardonal. On the sandy main street I spotted a young boy riding a beat up dusty quad. As he went by the Catholic church he throttled down, paused and did the Sign of the Cross before proceeding.

So no rooster this trip. More reason to return. I’d like another chance. You book a flight, a car rental and then a couple of hours after arrival you are on foot, on a beach, hunting roosters with your eyes; rooster fish that can weigh 25, 30, 35, 40, 45lbs or more. Best of all you are pursuing these large demanding fish with a silly fly rod and a gym sock of a fly that you’ve tied …incredible!

I asked Jason, “Where else in the world can you do this”? His answer, “no where…this is it”.

Here are some black and white images of the East Cape, Baja

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la ribera street

 

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Baja fish camp

 

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desert road

 

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walk from beach back to car

 

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snake track

 

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Snow Pack, Roosterfish and Pangas

December was winter like. January and February weren’t. Now it’s early March and so far it continues to be mild. The next three months is when we get our wet weather and if it’s cool enough we get snow…often tons of it, especially at elevation. Right now we have no significant snow pack. Without it we will have low summer river flows and warm water by the end of July. Last year our trout streams were shut down for part of August due to water temperatures. Unless we get snow, we could be in the same situation again.

I’ve been living and fishing SW Alberta for 15 years now and the overall trend is less and less water in our incredible shrinking rivers.

Speaking of warm temperatures…here are a few photos from past seasons chasing Roosterfish on foot. I’m planning a late spring trip. The past three years I haven’t been able to get back to Baja. I’m looking forward to it as searching for and sight casting to Roosters on foot, although a long shot pursuit, is an amazing experience even if you don’t get a hook up. Watching a 30 lbs or larger Rooster chase your fly right up to your flip flops while you plead out loud “eat the fly” is well worth the price of admission. My hands always shake uncontrollably after such an event and it takes me time to settle down and process the believability of what I just witnessed.

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mid (medio) sized rooster

Chasing Roosters on foot requires endurance, a good eye, a quick delivery (cast) and line speed, good bait (well tied flies), and some luck. Of course, finding active feeding fish, which means being in the right place at the right time, can make all the difference. This is easier said than done when on foot.

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I believe nothing has contributed more to me getting a hook up than simply telling myself over and over when things are slow and doubt inevitably seeps in and takes over that “if I just hang in there and put in my time I will get a shot… I’ll get a chance”. That’s the mental side of it. It’s the part that requires persistence, patience, self-encouragement and some faith. I try to bring that to the Sea Of Cortez.

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catholic church in town

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pangas

Most people increase their fishing odds by driving a 4-wheeler (quad) up and down the beach, and Baja has many miles of sand which can be covered.

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my roof top hang out in dunes

People on quads generally work in pairs with one person driving and the other “riding shotgun” and on the lookout for Roosters. You are more likely to find baitfish and feeding fish if you cover a lot of beach.

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jack (toro)

Some people fish for them out of Pangas: small sea-worthy outboard motor boat. They cruise around searching for bait and signs of feeding fish or try to attract them with chum. Basically they have the whole Sea of Cortez available to them. Once they spot a feeding Rooster the captain (Pangero) keeps throwing bait at the fish in order to keep them around and eating, and the angler can get multiple casting opportunities. Sometimes they throw a hook-less teaser lure at the fish and reel it in fast so that the Rooster chases it in tight to the boat, so casting distances are short and easy.

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rental car wheel flew off while driving the desert

 

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I was once fishing a beach in an area called La Ventana. There was a Panga 100 yards out with clients on board. They were anglers from San Francisco. I knew this as they were lodging where I was. They were on some sort of guided group angling trip. I had spent most of the morning walking the beach and had seen nothing. Then mid afternoon I finally spotted a medium sized Rooster working a very small bait ball within casting range. It was my first opportunity of the day after several hours on foot. I started casting trying to pull the Rooster off of the bait ball and onto my fly. The pangero off shore spotted my activity, raced over at full throttle, and within seconds had his two anglers casting fervently to the fish while he threw bait. At one point he put his Panga between me and the feeding fish, basically blocking me and forcing me to simply stand there and watch his two clients cast to the Rooster I had located.

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sun and sand blasted face

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small rooster

I was more ticked off at the anglers than the Pangero as he was working: earning a living. The anglers were there for sport and in my mind should have know better… etiquette and all that. Well, they didn’t catch the rooster and I was happy about that. It disappeared and when all the frenetic casting ended, the anglers looked at me from their boat 20 yards off shore and nodded. With as much emotional maturity as I could muster I gave them the finger and told them to F-off. I think that with the wind, noisy surf and bright sun they thought I was saying hello, as they waved back to me. In order to avoid an angling war the next day I packed up and moved on to a beach further south in search of a little angling space. After all I was on vacation.

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driving desert roads to beach

Fly Fishing Roosterfish on Foot

Baja; early summer; June; hot; walking in sand; hot; sore feet; windy; watching the surf;  alert; watching; no roosters; change beach; still no roosters; hot; look for bait fish; change beach; no roosters; no roosters; no roosters; then roosters, one, two, three…here they come; opportunity; run, run, get fly in front of rooster; double haul; be quick, cast quick; pray it eats; roosters going, now gone; way down the beach; gone.

Walking in sand; hot; watching the surf; more may come; hope more come…

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roosterfish caught on foot and released safely

 

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why I don’t go barefoot

 

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flies

 

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